Southampton v Arsenal
Saturday January 28, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 2
It's been a truly wonderful week for Southampton fans, after Saints booked a rare Wembley final by beating Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup semi-finals. Claude Puel's men rode their luck at times in the 1-0 win, but over the course of the two legs they were the better side. They didn't concede over 180 hard-fought minutes, and they were a constant threat on the counter-attack. The two goalscorers in the tie, Nathan Redmond and Shane Long, have searing speed which is perfectly suited to Puel's counter-punching tactics.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the former Lyon coach Puel. In his first season in England, Saints have been hugely inconsistent in the Premier League. They have won seven out of 22 games, losing nine and drawing the other six. They also blew it in the Europa League, drawing a must-win game at home to Hapoel Beer Sheva, as they tumbled out of the competition at the group stage.
For all these false dawns and missteps, Saints showed what they are capable of on Wednesday, a performance that was surely one of their best of the season. Saints have proved they can raise their game for the big occasion - they have beaten Liverpool twice, and overcome Arsenal and Inter Milan. Indeed, our friends at Opta tell us that Southampton could become the first team to knock Arsenal out of both domestic cup competitions since Manchester United did it in 1983.
Puel loves to rotate his squad, so he's likely to make several changes from Wednesday's heroic display. With Jose Fonte now at West Ham, and Virgil Van Dijk out for months with an ankle injury, impressive youngster Jack Stephens may keep his place at centre-back alongside Maya Yoshida.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger does an incredible impression of a frustrated eagle, and we saw that transformation again at the weekend, as he was sent off during the dramatic 2-1 win over Burnley. Wenger's fury in response to a perfectly legitimate penalty award to the Clarets hinted at his anger at a flat display. In the end, it mattered little, because Alexis Sanchez dinked in a last-gasp penalty to seal victory and keep Arsenal vaguely in the title hunt.
Although Wenger has a habit of rotating his squad for cup competitions, it's worth bearing in mind that he has won the FA Cup in two of the last three seasons, and Opta tell us the north London giants have won their last five away games in the competition. However, 2-1 defeats at Manchester City and Everton in the Premier League still linger in the memory, and the Gunners had to come back from three goals down to draw 3-3 at Bournemouth.
Wenger says he will select a strong side, with only one or two young players. Former Saint Theo Walcott is back after a calf problem, while long-term injury victims Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy are back in training. Granit Xhaka is suspended after adding another red card to his impressive collection, while his fellow midfielder Mohamed Elneny is away at the African Cup of Nations.
The market makes Arsenal the clear favourites here at 2.1411/10, but I think that price is too short. I know Saints are inconsistent, but they have won their last three home games without conceding a goal. They went to the Emirates and knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup, and in the Premier League Southampton pushed them all the way before conceding a late winner.
If you look at the overall recent record between the sides, you see that Arsenal have won just two of their last eight games against Southampton, and they haven't won at St Mary's since 2003. Saints should be full of confidence after Wednesday's Anfield win, and I'm happy to back the hosts Draw No Bet at a chunky 2.77/4.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Unders is the outsider here at 2.0621/20, but it's worth noting that Southampton have kept four clean sheets in their last five matches, and they've managed shut-outs against the Gunners in four of the clubs' last five meetings.
The fly in the ointment is Arsenal's recent scoring run, which has seen them score at least twice in each of their last five matches, but for whatever reason they do seem to keep coming up short against Southampton.
Shane Long was Southampton's matchwinner at Anfield, and he scored twice in a stunning 4-0 win over Arsenal in December 2015. Puel always springs surprises in his selections, but if Long starts he's worth a look to find the net at 3.185/40 on the Sportsbook.
Theo Walcott had scored three goals in six games prior to getting injured in mid-December, and he's 3.39/4 to score, while Olivier Giroud is worth considering at 2.47/5 after scoring in five of his last six appearances.
Back Southampton Draw No Bet at 2.77/4